FROM the glory of God seen on Trinity Sunday we passed to the
two Sundays of Divine Love. We are now to consider the love of God
in relation to sin, as grace; in relation to suffering, as mercy; and in
relation to trials and dangers, as peace. “Grace, mercy, and peace
from God our Father,” are respectively the themes of the present and two
following Sundays. This is the Sunday of Grace. Love and grace
are not two qualities, but one; and yet there is a distinction, for love,
when manifested, bears the name of grace. Love is the eternal fountain,
grace the streams thence issuing. Love is the fire, grace is the
fire in relation to men, as heat and warmth.
The word grace is a happy equivalent of the Greek charis, which expresses
the outward beauty and attractiveness of Love. It is peculiarly fitted
to express the manifestation of God’s love in the person of Christ. THE EPISTLE. (I S. PETER v. 5)
THE GOD OF ALL GRACE.
We have in this Epistle two distinct views of grace.
A. The Grace of Sanctification.
“God giveth grace,” the grace that is of sanctification which He imparts
so that it becomes grace in us, and the power of a holy life. This
is perhaps the most frequent use of the word, e.g. —
“My grace is sufficient for thee.”
“By the grace of God I am what I am.”
“Receive not the grace of God in vain.”
We learn from S. Peter two things with regard to this grace.
(1) The need of Humility.
“God resisteth the proud,” who are all unconscious of their need of
Divine assistance, “but giveth grace to the humble,” who, knowing their
weakness, are content to trust alone in Christ. Such humility towards
God will make us “subject one to another,” it being quite impossible for
us to be really humble before God while we are proud towards men.
(2) The need of Effort.
The grace of God will not relieve us from the necessity of sobriety
and watchfulness. S. Peter therefore warns us against the opposite
extremes of over-confidence and despair. When tempted to the former,
we are to recollect the danger of temptation from an ever-watchful Satan.
When tempted to the latter, we are to remember that we are not tempted
more than “our brethren that are in the world.” If all have the same “afflictions”
(and we must see to it that our temptations are afflictions and not pleasures)
all may have the same grace.
B. The Grace of Justification.
The God from Whom all grace proceeds has already “called us” in baptism,
and bestowed upon us the position of His justified and accepted children.
This position of favour is frequently termed grace, e.g. —
Rom. v. 2. “Our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand.”
Rom. vi. 15. “We are under grace.”
We are in grace as justified, and grace must be in us as sanctified.
The grace of pardon is a pledge of all further grace, and that which God
has done for us is the earnest of what He waits to do in us. He Himself,
Who alone knows what we need, and alone has power and love to impart what
is needed, will make us perfect, possessed of each part of the true Christian
character. He will stablish or confirm us in faith and feeling, in life
and habits. He will strengthen us in moral and spiritual courage, turning
the nervous recruit into the firm and reliable veteran. He will settle
us upon the firm foundation, so that we “know in Whom we have believed,”
and timid faith shall become tried certainty. From Him is all the grace,
and to Him belongs all the glory.
THE GOSPEL. (S. LUKE xv. 1.) THE
GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS
As God is love, so Christ is grace, or love manifested to men.
It was because of this that publicans and sinners, who turned with aversion
from other teachers, flocked to hear Him. They drew near to Him because
they were drawn by Him, finding in Him one whom they understood and Who
understood them. He spake lovingly of love. He offered them
what their spirits needed, pardon, restoration, and holiness. He
taught them simple lessons of hope, and by accepting their invitations
inspired them with self-respect and at the same time with penitence.
We can have no better definition of grace than “that in God which receiveth
He spoke two parables as His defence against those who would limit His
grace, and as an encouragement to all who doubt their acceptance.
These two parables may be taken together as a lesson on grace, and teach
us that :—
A. Grace Individualises.
It does not lose sight of one in ten or of one in a hundred, or of one
in a whole world. One sheep wanders, one coin is lost, and there
is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth. Though God has a
universe of willing subjects whose happiness consists in doing Him service,
yet He seeks out one erring planet as the scene of the Incarnation, and
each sinner may know that he is not an outcast from the love of God.
B. Grace is Unconditional.
Conditional grace is no grace at all. That which inspires grace
is not human merit, but human need. The sheep wandered through ignorance,
and the coin lay in insensibility, but neither was so lost that it could
not be found. The sheep strayed aimless, helpless, incapable of return,
for all wanderers have a tendency to wander further. The coin lay
incapable of effort, and hidden in the dust. Man cannot return: he
must be found.
C. Grace Perseveres.
“Until He find” is the measure of God’s grace, and there is no other
limit. If one method fail He will try another. He searches
by His word read and preached, by repeated representations of truth—this
is His candle. By hours of sickness, disappointments, warnings of
evil example, threatenings of disease and decay, He sweeps away the dust
of worldliness in which man lies hidden, and restores to usefulness the
defaced image of Himself. God’s image is still there, for man is
still a spiritual being possessing a will, an understanding, and a sense
of right and wrong, and is still precious to God on account of what he
once was, and on account of what he yet may be.
D. Grace is Personal.
We are apt to speak and think of grace as a thing, whereas it is the
attribute of a person, and its object must be a person. Intense personal
affection is seen in both parables. It is “My sheep,’ “the piece
which I had lost.” God seeks because He owns and values. It is not
the sheep which is lost, but the Shepherd Who has lost the sheep.
The loss is His, and the joy is His. We are not bidden to rejoice
with the sheep, but with the Shepherd. Thus, the grace of sacraments
is personal, and is the grace of Christ imparted through them.
THE COLLECT. A COLLECT OF GRACE.
We learn that prayer begins and ends in grace.
A. The Grace by which we Pray.
Not only prayer, but even the desire to pray, is the gift of God, for
“we cannot turn to faith and calling upon God without the grace of God
by Christ preventing us.” If this has been given, it is a pledge of all
that must follow. The Shepherd Who seeks can alone inspire us with
the desire to be found.
B. The Grace for which we Pray.
We pray for the mighty aid of the good Shepherd to rescue us, and for
the tenderness with which He welcomes the lost to be our comfort in all